The costs of non-justice 19th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice PDF Print E-mail
UNODC Speeches (2002-2010)


Vienna, 17 May 2010



Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Last month, the Crime Prevention Congress in Salvador (Brazil) called for adapting the administration of justice to our changing world. The challenge of this Commission is to act and ensure that nations indeed have the laws, knowledge and tools needed to deliver justice appropriate to the 21st century.  Today I’ll focus on the implications of this call and the work-program you face because of it.


Legal instruments


Let’s look first at the existing legal instruments:  are they adequate to protect our societies?  The Salvador Declaration answered in the negative when it requested this Commission to initiate the systematic review of all criminal justice standards and norms.             Make no mistake:  this review is not house-keeping.   It is about building security and development through the rule of law, to ensure your people freedom from fear and freedom from want, in the respect of human rights.

The updating soft laws is just the beginning.  In Salvador I also heard tough comments about the inadequacy of existing hard laws to deal with new threats (like crimes against the environment. individual identity, or the internet), as well as to deal with old threats (like piracy, kidnapping and slavery).   I call this failure the cost of non-justice, and to prove its sizeable dimensions I submit a few questions. 


•        In 2008 perhaps half of the timber products imported into the EU from South-East Asia originated from illegal logging.  Even greater trafficking went to Asia itself.  How can such massive cargoes travel unseen, of course not intercepted? 

•        The number of counterfeit goods detected at the European border has gone up by a factor of 10 over the past 10 years, reaching a total market value $7b/y.  Why the laws protecting intellectual property don’t prevail in the market place?

•        Cyber-crime is endangering the well-being of citizens and the security of nations:  power grids, air traffic and nuclear installations have been penetrated.  Why protecting the freedom to unilateral cyber-offence is more important than protecting the security derived from collective cyber-defence?

•        The number of piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa is till growing, with ransom income approaching $100m/y.  How is it possible that illiterate buccaneers from one of the world’s poorest countries can seize oil tankers from some of the richest countries, despite the patrolling of the world’s most powerful navies?

•        There are a quarter million victims of human trafficking in Europe alone, perhaps a million worldwide generating an annual income of billions for their predators.  Only about 2% of the modern slaves are rescued; the percentage of convicted perpetrators is even lower. Why such ineptitude in dealing with a crime that shames us all?

•        The financial crisis has hurt individual portfolios as well as national budgets to an unprecedented extent.  Banks balances instead have recovered fast, partly assisted by proceeds from crime.  Why such unwillingness to strengthen the anti-money-laundering nets to catch the sharks in the deep sea of crime money?


I could go on and on.  Instead, allow me to make three comments.


 First, I am not alone in my frustration at crime trends that have moved from the street to the boardroom, and from pick-pocketing to macro-size racketeering. The disappointment of common men and women has been manifested by many electoral outcomes, with more upset coalitions to come:  the writing is on the wall.


Second, I find it disingenuous on the part of Member States to speak loud about the threats posed by organized crime, and then fail to make progress -- 10 years after the signing in Palermo -- in the implementation of the related (TOC) Convention.   For sure the United Nations represents humanity’s best hope to substitute the conference table for the battlefield:  yet, this does not mean that sitting around conference tables is all that the UN is about.  In other words, do not disappoint We, the (UN) people once again, by failing to agree by year-end on a TOC mechanism to review implementation.  Repeat the Doha deal here, in Vienna. 


Third, I have a feeling of déjà-vu when I hear arguments against new crime-fighting instruments, reminiscent of the hesitation I recall before the negotiations for the Palermo and the Merida Conventions were launched --  hesitations that, let me add, eventually proved to be pointless.


Ladies and gentlemen,


while we dither about what to do about threats against the internet or the environment, organized crime in gaining economic and fire power greater than that of most your countries.  We have documented its advances:  UNODC’s soon-to-be released Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment provides an amazing picture of the menaces faced in various theatres:  its reading is as engaging as popular crime stories.  Go for it.




Yet, my second main point concerns the importance of even greater knowledge about crime.  At the moment, unlike in other areas where the UN is the world’s best information provider, we cannot report on crime trends:  as a consequence we cannot measure progress, or help you establish policy on the basis of evidence. All we assess are approximate chalk outlines, familiar from crime scene investigations.


At UNODC we are trying to overcome the crime information deficit.  Our Omnibus Survey Software and its Self-assessment Checklist enable states to measure progress in implementing the UNCAC and UNTOC. The Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit gives practitioners a better understanding of capacities and needs.  Our Drug Crop Monitoring is second to none. The Digest of Terrorist Cases breaks new ground.  But, we need more – much more.


I therefore welcome calls made in Salvador to strengthen the capacity of UNODC to collect, analyse and disseminate accurate and comparable data on world crime and victimization patterns. At the same time, I encourage you to strengthen your own national capacity in this area, not least in reporting on the implementation of the Palermo Convention. 


Let us turn operational measures. Are they adequate?


The operational tools


In the 8 years I spent at UNODC I came to the conclusion that governments look at crime from too narrow a perspective.  In the past, when there were only local or national mafias, law enforcement would draw up a domestic most wanted list and round up the suspects.  This approach has started to show its limitations in a world where powerful forces, both legitimate (like in trade and finance) and illegitimate (in crime and terrorism) have gone global.


Over the past quarter century, national criminal groups have been replaced by international, diffuse criminal networks. The modern crime business model privileges the control of trafficking routes, rather than just a single commodity in a specific location. Arrest a few traffickers and others will take their places as long as there is money to be made by exploiting illicit flows.


This because transnational organized crime is increasingly driven by market forces not dissimilar from the ones that have shaped globalization.  Unlike terrorists or insurgents, criminals don’t have a political agenda. They are out to make money:  they seek to buy low and sell high – maximizing returns and minimizing risk (using violence and corruption in the process). Wherever there is an opportunity, they exploit it by illicitly supplying and trafficking illicit goods, or unlawfully acquiring and trading licit commodities:  hence, countermeasures must disrupt those markets, and not just intercept the criminal groups that exploit them.


How can this be done? First, reduce the vulnerability that enables crime to prosper. Since traffickers follow the paths of least resistance – characterized by instability and underdevelopment – it is essential to strengthen security. Since crime hurts development, and vice-versa, reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be the most effective antidote to crime. Peace-building and peace-keeping make fragile regions less prone to the conflict that affects crime:  in turn, fighting crime neutralizes spoilers who profit from instability.


Second, increase the risks.  In the past two decades, as improvements in governance (controls) have failed to keep up with globalization (free trade and the internet) we have witnessed abuse of the economic and financial systems. A laissez-faire system cannot work if the invisible hand of the market is manipulated by the bloody hand of organized crime.  Greater vigilance is thus needed at the inter-face between licit and illicit markets – and at the army of white collar intermediaries (bankers. lawyers, accountants, realtors) who, unsuspected because they appear law-abiding and god-fearing, benefit from both.


In conclusion, Mr. Chairman


I have called your attention on the need (i) to upgrade legislative instruments, (ii) improve knowledge, and (iii) develop operational tools to disrupt criminal markets.   This in response to the perceived costs of non-justice.  If you are not convinced, do travel with me to not-so-distant places:  for example, to your mega-cities, or the many slums therein.  The hopeless kids we shall meet will tell you loud and clear how tempted they are by the handful of money syndicates offer to become their foot-soldiers.  Or accompany me to meso-America, or Africa and South-East Asia and learn how governments feel outgunned and out-spent by criminal gangs inebriated by the scent of power.   Or, meet the many Samaritans around the world, and learn first-hand how the conditions of non-justice make even more difficult their great volunteering work to help drug addicts, protect the modern slaves, and assist women victims of crime. 


After these experiences, I am sure you will agree that the cost of non-justice is unbearably high, especially for those who can afford it the least – and will be motivated to do more about it. In other words, take the work of this Commission seriously.


Thank for your attention.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2011 13:34